As I write this from my assisted living center, after my diagnosis of stage 4 cancer, I’ve been feeling blessed that the worst cancer pain has not hit yet and I am living a normal life. Praised be the Creator!
But today I feel so sad. As we grow older and approach our transition to the next world, we’re often afflicted with very difficult mental and physical tests and trials.
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Here at the assisted living center, I’m making new friends. We’re all in the same stage of our physical lives, so we have a lot in common. For the past few weeks, a couple of my friends and I ate lunch together in the dining room for residents in “special care” – which includes those suffering from dementia in different degrees. My new friend, the woman closest to me here and a special care patient, is highly educated, taught in college, speaks French and English, and even wrote a syndicated column for newspapers.
On her lucid days we had great conversations, but during the past two days the degree of her anger, frustration, paranoia, and lashing out at the caregivers dangerously increased. It was reported that she was talking of suicide or maybe harming others. So today I had lunch with her, hoping to be helpful.
At lunch she did not behave in hostile or impolite ways towards me, but she did behave that way toward everyone else. After I came back from my doctor’s visit this afternoon, I was told that she had been transferred to a psychiatric hospital, with the expectation of staying there for a few months, or maybe forever. The assisted living facility where I reside now cannot handle the kinds of problem now occurring in her mind.
These sorts of mental problems, along with the inevitable physical ailments that go along with age, often affect the elderly in the last stages of our physical lives, and can bring us our greatest psychological and spiritual tests.
However, I’m comforted by the fact that the Baha’i teachings refer to these tests as purely mental and physical ailments. Baha’u’llah, when asked about such ailments and their effect on the soul, said:
Thou hast asked Me whether man, as apart from the Prophets of God and His chosen ones, will retain, after his physical death, the self-same individuality, personality, consciousness, and understanding that characterize his life in this world. If this should be the case, how is it, thou hast observed, that whereas such slight injuries to his mental faculties as fainting and severe illness deprive him of his understanding and consciousness, his death, which must involve the decomposition of his body and the dissolution of its elements, is powerless to destroy that understanding and extinguish that consciousness? How can any one imagine that man’s consciousness and personality will be maintained, when the very instruments necessary to their existence and function will have completely disintegrated?
Know thou that the soul of man is exalted above, and is independent of all infirmities of body or mind. That a sick person showeth signs of weakness is due to the hindrances that interpose themselves between his soul and his body, for the soul itself remaineth unaffected by any bodily ailments. Consider the light of the lamp. Though an external object may interfere with its radiance, the light itself continueth to shine with undiminished power. In like manner, every malady afflicting the body of man is an impediment that preventeth the soul from manifesting its inherent might and power. When it leaveth the body, however, it will evince such ascendancy, and reveal such influence as no force on earth can equal. Every pure, every refined and sanctified soul will be endowed with tremendous power, and shall rejoice with exceeding gladness.
I’m glad that this is the case, although I do feel intensely sad, unable to see her again and not even saying goodbye to her. I will miss her a great deal, and feel that this place will not seem the same for me without her.
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But now: it’s panic time for me! This evening I’ve been having pain in the right side of my abdomen, right where, if it is due to liver cancer, it would be likely to manifest itself. So I take some mild over-the-counter medication, and the pain almost completely disappears. The pain could be due to difficulty with my colon or stomach, and since the pain does not appear consistently and stay with me, then I know my panic is for nothing.
I realize that my struggle is with myself.
Here, nearing the end of my physical existence, I tell myself I am ready for anything and relying only on God’s Will – and yet, I fear the cancer pain. So am I truly relying on God, or am I not truly relying on Him? This is not a comfortable emotional or spiritual place for me. My emotions are playing with me, putting me through a cycle of fear and acceptance.
In spite of all this, I realize that I am so blessed for having the strength of my rational mind, which helps me to avoid idle and vain imaginations. I do hope to remain steadfast in my belief that the Creator will take care of me to the last breath, as He has done throughout my entire life, and to moderate the see-saw of my emotions.
For all of these reasons, I feel so lonely tonight and feel like crying. I know these feelings will pass soon and I will revert to my own silly self. I’ll get out of my room and go harass the other residents and caregivers with my jokes.
Which reminds me: I have a wonderful plan for my going-home trip. I have already bought my coffin, and it is beautiful, but now I am changing my mind and want to trade it in for the double-wide version. The reason? Well, I know it’s a long way from here to the next world, and I do not want to be hungry on the way, so I am going to fill the rest of the coffin with many chocolates, maybe a large thick crust pizza with everything on it, and a large bucket of Oreo Blizzard ice cream.
Thanks for listening. I’m feeling much better right now, and I am going to do my harassing.